LAND O'LAKES — It was a photo of himself on Facebook that spurred Deputy Mark Speaker to change.
He was 313 pounds. The buttons on his double-XL shirts strained around his midsection. Describing what he looked like in that picture from Thanksgiving 2011, he held his arms wide around his abdomen.
"It was everything I didn't think I was," he said. "You'll tell yourself, 'Oh, I'm not that bad,' and you are."
Speaker wanted to be in a gym exercising, but at his weight, he was told, he could wrench his joints and strain his tendons. To do even basic routines, he would first have to escape his mass.
He started with a diet. Water instead of soda. Protein in lieu of carbohydrates. He lost 50 pounds before he could go to the gym.
Now he works his different muscle groups at Gold's Gym. In a little over a year, Speaker has shed about 100 pounds. He's down to 207 now. He says it's a start.
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said he's looking for that kind of change from more of his deputies. On Jan. 1, the Sheriff's Office began its Health Fitness Initiative. Two weeks in, 300 employees have signed up.
Aside from confronting dangers on the job, law enforcement officers face a higher risk for heart disease and other health problems than people in other professions. Officers tend to be more overweight and take in higher cholesterol, which can strain their bodies, according to a 2009 study reported in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
"We're a public safety agency," Nocco said. "People expect that we're going to be able to chase somebody down."
Agency members who participate in the voluntary fitness initiative must log 30-minute gym visits three times a week to receive 10 points a week.
At the end of each quarter, members with more than 100 points will get $25 gift cards to places like Target and Outback Steak House.
The Sheriff's Office made deputies available to reporters on Tuesday morning while the deputies worked out in the employee gym at the Land O'Lakes jail. Most had success stories that the sheriff hoped would inspire other agency members.
After his wedding last March, Deputy Chris Wieck, 34, said he was "embarrassed" by photos of himself at 320 pounds. He lost more than 90 pounds working out in the gym and drinking water instead of soda. Now, he said, he can respond quicker to incident calls in the jail corridors and catch his breath when he arrives. And at home, he can play football with his children.
Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.